Kids in the Kitchen: Knife Skills

 

When people watch my children in the kitchen, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “Aren’t you worried about them using a knife?”.  While safety is very important and we are always reminding them to use their knives safely, I do not worry because we have spent the time upfront to make sure that they have the knife skills they need to safely do the job. There are a few keys to good knife skills for children that will help them be able to use knives appropriately in the kitchen.

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Choose the Right Knife for the Job

This is one area that is challenging for a lot of parents. How do you choose the right knife for the child and the job? First, we need to understand that ‘dull knives’ are not the solution. This particularly applies to knives that are supposed to be sharp but are not and in cutting things that do not cut easily. If you are trying to cut something with a dull knife you are more likely to slip and cut yourself.

When we start our children with a knife (somewhere around 2 or 3 depending on the child and their interest/development) we start with a butter knife and a lettuce knife. While a butter knife is not a particularly sharp knife, it is not designed to be sharp, and is used to cut things that are soft and easily sliced. This works great for soft fruits and cutting up veggies on their dinner plates. For harder vegetables and fruits that need a sharper knife you can use a lettuce knife. I love these knives because they will cut right through many foods but will not cut your child. As soon as we introduce them to these knives we begin instruction so that they learn to use the knives properly and safely.

As they get older and begin to use regular kitchen and chef’s knives, we make sure they are kept clean and sharpened. You want them to be able to slice what they are cutting and not feel like they have to ‘hack’ at it. It is also beneficial to choose knives that fit well in their hands so that they are able to handle them comfortably. My two older children both received a Sabatier-K chef’s knife for Christmas a couple of years ago that works very well for them. It is a high quality but reasonably priced knife that fits well in their hands. We purchased ours from their outlet store but they are also available on Amazon. At 11 and 12 they can both do any cutting that is required for the meals that they cook.

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Quality Instruction

Instruction is vital to good knife skills. While a young child’s fine motor skills may not allow for perfect knife skills in the beginning, you do not want bad habits to develop. For older children or if you need a little refresher yourself, Alton Brown has an episode titled American Slicer that can help with knife skills.

You want to make sure they learn to curl their fingers under and away from the knife, to have a good surface to cut on, to cut or peel away from their bodies, and to be aware of what is around them as they are cutting (make sure baby’s hand isn’t on the cutting board, etc).  They need to learn not to run with the knife, to carry it point down like a pair of scissors, and not to swing it around like a toy.

When you begin teaching about knives it is important that young children understand that they may only use the knife with permission and under supervision. As they get older they can be allowed more freedom.

Practice

It is really important that we give them opportunities to practice. It can often seem easier and certainly quicker to just take care of it ourselves. However, giving them multiple opportunities to practice will help grow their skills and confidence. Like many life skills the more they practice the easier it will become, just be sure to continue to monitor for safety until you are confident that they are consistently using the appropriate safety measures.

Teaching children to use knives can feel scary at first but it is a life skill that is so very important. Accidents do happen, but proper training and experience greatly decreases the risk! I highly encourage you to take the time to teach them well and enjoy the shared time in the kitchen.  What kitchen skills are you wanting to teach your children?

 

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Homeschool Homestead: Canning and Preserving

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Peeling Tomatoes

Every year we plan a couple of big ‘canning days’ and every year about half way through I say I’m never doing it again. Then we finish up and have all the yummy food ready for us all winter and I realize yet again that it was worth the time and energy.

If you are new to canning you should know that you don’t have to go crazy like we do and try to can ‘all the things’. Pick one or two things that you have an abundance of or are readily available at your local farmers market and try a small batch. You can work your way up from there!

We enjoy using canning as a part of the homesteading and homeschooling process. The children learn about food preservation, fill our pantry for the winter, learn about nutrition, and practice math skills (measuring, weighing, multiplying and dividing recipes). It’s also a great way to give responsibility to older learners. While there are parts of canning that need to be handled by a responsible adult or an older child, there are many parts of the process that are suitable for young children. My little ones tend to especially enjoy peeling tomatoes or peaches and shucking corn! I will answer some of the most common questions I hear about canning below to help you get started!

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What do you can?

We can a wide variety of things from tomatoes to peaches, salsa to turkey broth. We also enjoy pie fillings and jams for sweet treats in the winter months. We even can strawberry lemonade concentrate which is like a little burst of sunshine during cold winter. Just about any produce can be safely canned, some might need a little sugar or acid, but there’s loads of recipes here.

Is it better to use a water bath canner or a pressure canner?

That depends on what you want to can. I recommend starting with a water bath canner BUT some things are not safe to can in a water bath canner. In general, most fruits and pickles are water bathed and meats and vegetables are pressure canned but you can find out for each specific item on the websites in the resources below.

How do I learn how to can?

I recommend doing some research before you get started canning. If you like books the Ball Canning Guide is an authoritative resource as is the National Center for Food Preservation (USDA).  Many people learn better by watching or participating in a hands on class. Check with your local cooperative extension as they often offer free or inexpensive classes on canning. Also, many people that enjoy canning are happy to teach their friends and neighbors. If you have a friend or neighbor teach you, please make sure that you choose someone who is following the recommended safety procedures; there’s lots of ‘old timey’ techniques that aren’t necessarily safe

What resources do you need?

Canner: Water Bath or Pressure (depending on what you want to can)

Canning tools (jar lifter, magnet, canning funnel) These sometimes come with water bath canners like the set above and are also sold separately.

Jars and lids: Jars are reusable and typically cheaper locally than online due to shipping. Always make sure you use canning jars as other jars may not be rated for the heat. Metal lids are one time use, but the rings can be used multiple times. There is a little more of a learning curve but once you are comfortable with the canning process you can use Tattler Lids which are reusable, but cost a bit more.

Recipes: Unlike much of cooking you it is not safe to freelance on your canning recipes. Canning recipes are specifically designed and tested for safety. There are many resources out there with recipes but not all of them have been tested for safety. Two of the most used and recommended resources that are tested and trusted are the USDA and Ball. If you intend to enter canned goods into a fair, many require recipes to be from one of these two sources.

What are your favorite things to can?

As my friend Crystal would say, “Can all the things.”  Really though we enjoy canning a variety of different items. Pickles are one of my favorite even though they are little time consuming the rewards are great. We also really like corn salsa (we canned over 50 jars of corn salsa this week). For starting out I recommend jams or fruits as they tend to be simple but delicious and easy to do in small batches.

Why do you can?

We can for several reasons. We love to know where our food came from and support local farmers, we like controlling the ingredients, and enjoy the team building aspects of family canning.  We also love to see the children engaged and contributing to the household.

Do you have to grow a huge garden in order to can?

Absolutely not! While growing a large garden is a great way to get produce to can, we often purchase produce in bulk from local farmers in order to can enough for our family’s needs.  You can find local farm stands, u-pick farms, or even barter with a neighbor that might have an abundance.

Is it safe?

A quick Google search can lead you to horror stories of canning gone wrong. There is a very real danger to inappropriate canning. Botulism is nothing to play around with, however, as long as you are following safety-tested recipes and procedures canning is very safe. Follow the correct recipes, canning times, and canning procedures and your food is just as a safe (or maybe safer) than what you are buying in the store.

Key Safety Points:

  • Follow a tested recipe
  • Use the appropriate canner (never water bath a low acid food that should be pressure canned)
  • Make sure you have a good seal

What homeschool skills are taught/reinforced?

In addition to it being a valuable life skill in and of itself, there is a lot of math that we use in canning. Measuring and weighing ingredients, multiplying or dividing when we need to halve or double a recipe, elapsed time when determining what time the canners will be done, we’re even considering getting into pH calculations and specific gravity as their chemistry advances to those skills. It is also a good lesson in nutrition as you talk about needing fruits and vegetables all year and preserving them for the winter when they are not able to be grown locally.

 

We just finished up over 50 jars of corn salsa and 11 jars of plain tomatoes this week. I’m hoping to get a chance to can more tomatoes this summer and my daughter wants to make some blueberry jam to enter into our state fair.  Canning is a lot of work but it is very rewarding work and we enjoy spending the time working together as a family. Leave me a comment with your favorite thing to can or any canning questions that you might have.

Resource Library and Affiliate Disclosure

When you sign up for the Schoolin’ Swag free resource library you will get a link and password to the library, we are adding to the library each month with new items. You will also get a bi-weekly newsletter email to keep you up to date on what we have going on.

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This post may contain affiliate or referral links, including Amazon affiliate links. As always I will never recommend a product that I don’t believe in and you will never be charged more for purchasing through our links. It does help pay for the costs associated with the blog.

Deals and Freebies!

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Homestead Homeschool: Our Livestock Show!!!

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I promised that I’d share the results of the livestock show with you! The children had so much fun and learned so much. This was an all day event as we were there before 9 am and did not leave until almost 9 pm. I think we were all exhausted when it was over but it was a day well spent.

Elizabeth took her goat out in the ring a total of four times, once as a helper in the special needs show, once to be judged on showmanship, once to have the animal judged in the market class, and then for the final ‘auction’. She was awarded Reserve Champion (2nd place) for showmanship and 6th place for market class!

Matthew had three opportunities to take his pig in the ring, showmanship, market, and auction. He received 4th place in showmanship and 3rd place in market class. He did a great job and showed a tremendous improvement in control of his animal from last year. We were so proud of both of them.

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I hope you enjoy these pictures from the show. If you want to know more about their animals make sure you check out, Homestead Homeschool: Our 4-H Goat and Homesteading Homeschool: Our 4H Pig where I interviewed the children about their animals. Their next step will be to complete a project record book detailing their experiences and what they learned in the process. This is a great way for them to practice writing skills, typing skills, and financial math concepts. I love that they get a chance to use the things we are learning in a practical setting. It really helps them understand why they need the skills I am teaching them. Anyone else enjoy 4H projects?

When you sign up for our free resource library you will get a link and password to the library, we are adding to the library each month with new items. You will also get a bi-weekly newsletter email to keep you up to date on what we have going on.

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This post may contain affiliate or referral links, including Amazon affiliate links. As always I will never recommend a product that I don’t believe in and you will never be charged more for purchasing through our links. It does help pay for the costs associated with the blog.

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Homestead Homeschool: Our 4-H Goat

It is time for our monthly Homestead Homeschool post and this time I’ve interviewed my 10 year old daughter, Elizabeth. She is sharing today about the goat that she is raising for our 4-H livestock show next month.  She is learning so much about responsibility, animal care, business, and public speaking. She will show her goat in the same show that my son shows his pig which we talked about last month in, Homesteading Homeschool: Our 4H Pig. If this sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to contact your local 4-H agent. Even if you don’t have the land or space to raise an animal at your home there are often ways to keep the animal at a local farm and the child go there to care for the animal.

Tell me about your 4-H Goat Project.

“I am raising a goat to show in the 4H livestock show. I will have the goat for about two months. I am training the goat to be able to walk with me on a harness around the ring. ”

Tell me about your goat.

“My goat’s name is Cream because it looks like ice cream with a chocolate head and a vanilla body.  It has floppy ears and a short tail. She is really cute and soft. I enjoy playing with her.”

What do you have to do with your goat each day? 

“I have to feed it twice each day. I take it out on a harness and walk it each day to practice for the show. I provide it with clean water each day as well as hay. I spend time playing with it and rubbing it each day. ”

What does showing your goat look like?

“I will get it cleaned up and ready for the show.  Then I will have it in a choker collar and it will walk with me around the show ring. I will need to keep it between me and the judge. I will do this twice. The first time is for showmanship where they judge how well I work with the goat. The second time they will look for the meat and characteristics of the goat for the market class. ”

What do you hope to learn and accomplish this year?

“I want to learn more about goats and how to show a goat. I hope to get grand champion at the show. ”

What do you think other people should know about showing goats?

“It is fun and easier than some other animals. ”

This is her first year showing an animal and I’m looking forward to watching her grow and learn through this process. She is planning to sell her goat after the show for breeding. While goats can go to to market and slaughter they are not required to and she preferred not to go that route. Goats can be shown on a circuit at several shows, but we are just participating in the one local show at this time. The show is in April and I’ll post some pictures and results afterwards. If you have any questions about 4-H you can contact your local cooperative extension office or check out our post, But I don’t do animals…or using 4-H in our homeschool. 

If you participate in 4-H, tell us your favorite part in the comments. Also, please feel free to ask questions about the goat or the show in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

When you sign up for our free resource library you will get a link and password to the library, we are adding to the library each month with new items. You will also get a bi-weekly newsletter email to keep you up to date on what we have going on.

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This post may contain affiliate or referral links, including Amazon affiliate links. As always I will never recommend a product that I don’t believe in and you will never be charged more for purchasing through our links. It does help pay for the costs associated with the blog.

Deals and Freebies:

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Homesteading Homeschool: Our 4H Pig

I mentioned last month that I planned to share a different part of our ‘homesteading’ adventures each month and how we use it to supplement our homeschooling. This month I am sharing about the pig that my son is raising for a 4H livestock show. I interviewed my son so that he could share in his own words about his experience with this project. This is his second time raising a pig and we can already see him applying the lessons he learned last year to this new animal. He is really looking forward to this year’s show (and filling up our freezer again.)

 

As a parent, I love that this experience helps him with responsibility. He has to take care of his animal several times a day, and train him each day. In addition he is learning about animal husbandry, nutrition, business (he has to raise money and keep records of what he spends) and gaining a better understanding of where food comes from. By North Carolina law the pig must be processed with-in two weeks of the show. We could send it to auction or have it processed for our personal consumption. So this is also a great way  to fill our freezer with meat that we raised. We use a local processing facility to process the pig after the show.    Last year he also used the experience to do an oral presentation for 4H to improve his public speaking skills.

We are fortunate enough to have the space to raise the pig here in our backyard which makes it easier for my son to care for and train his animal. However, if a child is interested in raising an animal and does not have the space of ability at their home there are often options for having them at local farms or facilities. Check with your local 4H agent or cooperative extension for more information on livestock opportunities in your area.

Tell me about your 4H Pig Project.

“I have to raise the pig for several months until the day of the show, take it to the show and then by North Carolina law it must go to slaughter with-in two weeks of the show.”

Why?

“To keep from spreading hog diseases.”

Tell me about your pig.

“I have a black 130 lb Duroc cross pig that is about 2 feet high at his head and 4 feet long altogether. His name is Pork Chop. He will hopefully be over 200 lbs by the time of the show. ”

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What do you have to do with your pig each day? 

“I have to feed him 5 pounds each morning and 5 pounds each afternoon and then I fill its water bucket every morning. If the pig dumps the bucket I have to fill it again around mid-day. I also have to train it for the show ring so that it will be easier to show. Each day I go out to the pen and practice walking it around with the pig stick. If the pig does well it gets a marshmallow or pop tart as a treat.”

What does showing your pig look like?

“I will take it on the day of the show. First we will do showmanship competition where we see who can best handle the animal. I use a pig stick/whip and tap it on the shoulder or hock to get it to go left/right or forward and guide it around the ring. The judge may ask questions about how long I’ve had the pig, the breed, the feed I use, etc. Then we go into market class, which judges the animal’s meat and build. Finally we go into the auction ring in which you do not actually get rid of the animal like a normal auction, but people bid and sponsor your animal.”

What do you hope to learn and accomplish this year?

“I hope to learn more about better showing a pig.”

What do you think other people should know about showing pigs?

“That is not as easy as it sounds. You cannot leave your house for trips unless someone can come over and feed and water it. They have to be fed everyday. Unlike my chickens you cannot just leave a big bucket of food out for them or they will eat all of the food in one serving and then be hungry.”

We are enjoying having the pig for this short term project, though we are grateful that it is a short term project for us since it does hinder our ability to travel away from home without hiring someone to care for the pig. In addition to my son’s pig my daughter is raising a goat for the show. She is a bit tenderhearted and did not want to raise an animal that had to go to slaughter. Goats do not fall under the same law, so she will be able to sell it as a pet or for breeding after the show. I will share more about her goat and interview her for next month’s homesteading homeschool post. If you have more questions about the pig or questions about the goat feel free to ask in the comments and we will be happy to address them. For more information on 4H in general check out our But I don’t do animals…or using 4-H in our homeschool post.

When you sign up for our free resource library you will get a link and password to the library, we are adding to the library each month with new items. You will also get a bi-weekly newsletter email to keep you up to date on what we have going on.

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This post may contain affiliate or referral links, including Amazon affiliate links. As always I will never recommend a product that I don’t believe in and you will never be charged more for purchasing through our links. It does help pay for the costs associated with the blog.

Friday Deals and Freebies!

Last Day for a discount on this great Chalk Pastel Bird Course in honor of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

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